NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What can be said about Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) that has not already been said? Not many companies today can match Exxon's historical return on capital and strong dividends.Exxon's market position in energy remains as solid as ever, but rising costs and soft production have affected its growth. Accordingly, profitability hasn't been as robust.
First-Quarter Results Weren't Great but Reflect Industry ChallengesFirst-quarter results topped the average estimates from analysts, and the company managed to grow earnings. On the other hand, bears point out it was the seventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year production declines. They also note that much of the earnings growth came from Exxon's chemical business, not from oil and gas, the primary revenue drivers. Indeed, total revenue declined 12% in the first quarter, to $108.8 billion from $124.1 billion a year earlier. And oil and gas production declined 4% year over year. There was a 2% sequential increase in oil and gas production, but that didn't help all that much.
Natural gas production was down 6% internationally. But Exxon was able to make up for this in crude oil production, which was better than expected even though it fell 1% year over year. It was also a surprise that Exxon's profits advanced by 0.5%, given that the company's "realization" for oil and gas (the price it receives for these commodities) declined 1% from a year earlier. Granted, these results weren't stellar. Understandably, investors were a bit peeved. But Exxon is not alone in its energy struggles.
I've written at length about Schlumberger (SLB) and Halliburton (HAL) and the challenges they face with weak oil prices and soft rig counts, which contributed to their poor sequential performances. Exxon was no exception. Besides, even though Exxon is the world's largest oil producer, replenishing oil and gas consumption, which again fell 6% worldwide, is no easy task. Understandably, there is now a bearish tenor regarding Exxon's performance. But to expect better results in this poor energy environment, you might as well ask for oil to turn into wine. Miracles aren't happening. Execution should be the focus. To that end, Exxon did as well as expected.